Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
McCarthey Athletic Center 801 N Cincinnati St Spokane, WA 99258
Year Opened: 2004
Before I get too far into this review and effusing all the virtues of Gonzaga basketball and McCarthey Athletic Center, first a caveat – I love Gonzaga University. I am an alum and a fan and up until this visit, had never been able to see a game in the historic Kennel. A visit back to Spokane to see a Zags game has long had a special place on my bucket list.
With that out of the way, everything else I say is 100% accurate and true about my review. First, a bit about The Program. The Zags have sold out every home game at the Kennel since it opened in 2004. Every. Single. Home. Game. This has created an atmosphere and a home-court advantage that is matched, but not exceeded, by only the bluest of college basketball’s blue blood.
Now, how about some numbers? Since 1966 Gonzaga has been their regular season conference champion on 28 occasions, has won their conference tournament 21 times, has made the NCAA Tournament a staggering 24 years in a row, made it to the Sweet Sixteen every year since 2015, and has twice been runners up to the national champion.
Head Coach Mark Few, now entering his 25th season at the helm of the Zags juggernaut, has been responsible for leading 26 different All-American players. While the saying around Spokane is that the Cinderella slipper still fits, the days of people being unaware of the Bulldogs are long over.
Virtually all of this winning has been done from McCarthey Athletic Center…the Kennel. It is a special place and if you read on, I’m sure you’ll understand why.
Food & Beverage 4
When it comes to food and drinks at the Kennel there are very few frills, but it will all suit your needs. There are numerous stands sprinkled throughout the main concourse – the vast majority of these stands offer up traditional game day fare like hot dogs (although sausage is also on the menu), burgers, chips, candy, popcorn (kettle corn is also an option), sodas, bottled water, and sports drinks.
There are Pizza Hut and Ben & Jerry’s kiosks that serve pared-down menus of those popular chains. You can also find a noodle bowl stand, a street tacos stand, and a barbecue stand. You’ll have plenty of options at the Kennel, except for when it comes to alcohol, as that’s not available, so keep that in mind.
Our FANFARE scoring system only goes up to “5”, or else I’d give McCarthy a “100” in terms of atmosphere. I admit I haven’t been to some of the palaces of college basketball like Rupp Arena, Dean Smith Center, or Cameron Indoor Stadium, but I have been to quite a few college basketball venues over the years, and have never experienced anything like the Kennel.
From the statue of Spike (more on him in a bit) at the front entrance, to the banners hanging from the rafters – so many banners – to the retired numbers of the greats adorning the walls, you know immediately that this is a serious place for basketball. In addition, the Zag Shop is conveniently located near the main entrance to help supply you with all those last-minute or must-have Gonzaga souvenirs.
All this plays second to the energy that’s inside the building. I arrived a good two hours before the opening tip and was fortunate to watch that energy build and build until it exploded, with the Zags gaining possession of the ball first. I will talk more about the fans coming up, but the Kennel Club, aka the student section, is the best that I’ve ever seen in person.
Spokane has come a long way since I first set foot there close to a decade ago. Downtown has been revitalized with new boutique hotels, specialty stores, and top-tier restaurants – that is not to say the charm of this old industrial town has been polished off completely during its recent glow-up.
Gonzaga University and McCarthey Athletic Center are located in an area of town that is known as the University District. No less than five – including Gonzaga – institutions of higher learning have campuses and satellite facilities in the area. That being said, it is only a short five- to seven-minute drive from campus to downtown Spokane.
Spokane, like much of this part of the country, has a culture and environment that fosters outdoor activity; whether it is hiking and biking skiing and snowboarding, or kayaking and paddleboarding, all of it can be found in Spokane proper.
One of the best places for visitors – and it’s a spot that I go back to often – is Riverfront Park. This sprawling green space is smack-dab in the heart of the city. It’s got walking/running/cycling areas, sprawling green lawns, areas for ice skating, a century-plus-old carousel, a gondola skyride over Spokane Falls, and public art galore (look out for the Big Red Wagon and the garbage goat). You need to visit this park if you come to Spokane, if for nothing else but the viewing areas for the falls, which are breathtaking.
Another point of interest for history and entertainment buffs is Bing Crosby Museum right on the campus of Gonzaga. Arguably the most famous alum of Gonzaga, the legendary crooner and award-winning actor was born in Spokane, and his former home is situated where it has always been, on campus. The museum has the largest collection of Crosby memorabilia and is a great slice of true Americana.
For dining, I’ll admit that I’m an old soul and prefer to eat at places that are, I guess on the side of being less than trendy. However, I like what is good, and Spokane has plenty of that. A couple of places I want to recommend highly are Frank’s Diner and One Tree Cider House.
Built inside of an old train car, Frank’s Diner is an all-day breakfast joint that also serves up all those classic comfort food meals. I love a good breakfast, and this was arguably the best I had during my week in eastern Washington. As for One Tree Cider House, it is exactly what its name implies – it serves up craft hard ciders, many of which are cooked up by One Tree, and also has a nice bar food menu that is perfect for date nights.
In terms of lodging, there are a few options within walking distance of campus. Your closest options include Ruby River Hotel and Courtyard by Marriott by Spokane Downtown at the Convention Center. The latter is across the river from campus but is navigable via the nearby bridge. Downtown Spokane also has a ton of other options for travelers.
I’ve already alluded to this, but I was blown away by the fan response at the Kennel. I have heard for years about the legendary sellout streak, which has been the chief culprit in delaying my first game here. It’s one thing to hear about it and it’s one thing to see it on television, but it is another sensation altogether to experience that crowd in person.
Watching the seats gradually fill up until the start of the game was amazing. The student section is incredible, and this is one of the most knowledgeable fanbases I’ve ever seen. A lot of games will have an usher prevent fans from heading back to their seats while the action is going on; the Zags fans I saw knew this empirically; I’ve never seen that before.
It was a loud environment, and the energy didn’t diminish until late in the fourth quarter when the game was already well in the Zags hands. I can’t explain enough about how impressive this was. Hopefully, these two videos will help demonstrate what my words are failing to convey.
Spokane is tucked away in the far eastern corner of Washington state. It does have a decent-sized airport in Spokane International Airport with lots of direct flights, especially if you’re coming from the West Coast. The airport is also a short 10-minute drive from the Gonzaga campus.
If you’re coming from out of town, the closest major city is going to be the Seattle/Tacoma metroplex, which is roughly four and a half hours due west. Once in Spokane, if you choose not to drive around or use a rideshare, the Spokane Transit System runs buses all across the city, with several stops at and near Gonzaga University.
Once on campus parking is gloriously plentiful and refreshingly free around the arena. There are also parking garages should you choose to get out of the elements, but prices for those vary.
Return on Investment 4
Now we get to the rub of things. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have had a sellout at every game at the Kennel. It is virtually impossible to score a ticket, even on the secondary markets (here is the Zags ticket policy just for reference). With that in mind, this is the only non-positive I can say about games at Gonzaga.
Concessions are affordable and parking is free. If you can get a ticket, that’s fantastic and you are going to have an amazing time.
The Zags have a lot of the traditional pomp and circumstance that most schools have. For example, though they’re small but mighty, the Bulldog Band adds immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the Kennel. They start playing before the opening tip and do not let up until well after the final buzzer.
The band perfectly complements the Gonzaga Cheer Team and Bomb Squad, the latter being the Zags dance team. The cheerleaders can be found down on the court, exhorting fans and the Zags on, while the Bomb Squad performs at halftime for men’s and women’s basketball games, as well as during home volleyball games at McCarthey Athletic Center.
Last, but certainly not least is Spike, the beloved Gonzaga mascot. The Zags didn’t have a costumed mascot until 1985, but Spike has been a fixture ever since. “He” displays a ton of energy and enthusiasm, and is a great asset to all Bulldogs home games.
Alright, I hope the enthusiasm I had for my visit comes through in this review. This is easily the best college basketball venue that I’ve gotten to visit; I am confident in the assumption that if you are to somehow find yourself able to go to the Kennel to see a Zags game, you’ll come away feeling the same. Go Zags!
Follow Eric Moreno's Stadium Journey on Twitter at @EricMoreno6477.